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Brain Injury Basics

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What is traumatic brain injury?

A brain injury is an injury to the brain that occurs after birth and is not congenital or hereditary. Brain injury results in a change of brain activity.


Traumatic brain injury is caused by an external force, such as a bump, blow or jolt to the head that disrupts normal function of the brain.  The severity of brain injury can range from mild (also called concussion) to moderate to severe brain injury.  Symptoms after brain injury may be short or long lasting. 

What are the symptoms of a brain injury?

A brain injury can cause a wide variety of functional changes including changes in:


  • Cognitive abilities - You may have problems with memory, processing information, concentrating, judgement, initiating activities, focus. 

  • Physical abilities - You may experience fatigue, balance problems, muscle spasticity.


  • Emotional changes - You may feel depressed, have mood swings, feel anxiety, or agitation.  A person with brain injury may active impulsively or not understand their feelings.  


  • Speech - You may have difficulty communicating or swallowing. 


  • Sleep - You may have trouble sleeping or drowsiness. 


  • Sensory symptoms - You may have blurred vision, ringing in the ears, a bad taste in the mouth or changes in the ability to smell.  You may be more sensitive to light or sounds. 


  • Pain -  You may have headaches.


Source: This information is from the CDC and from from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center TBI FactSheet.  The TBI FactSheet was developed by Robin Hanks, PhD, Kathy Bell, MD, Laura Dreer PhD, in collaboration with the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center.  The health information content is based on research evidence whenever available and represents the consensus of expert opinion of the TBI Model System directors. 

Disclaimer: This information is not meant to replace advice from a medical professional.  You should consult your health care provided regarding specific medical concerns or treatment. 

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What is a concussion?

A concussion is a mild brain injury.  A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This can happen due to a car, bike or ATV crash, a fall, an assault,  a skiing injury, or a sports injury.  In most cases, there are minimal lasting symptoms or ill effects. During recovery, brain function and blood flow may be changed, therefore it is best not to take part in rigorous activities for a few days to a few weeks.   Recovery is usually faster when a person gets some rest for a short period of time (e.g. a few days) and gradually returns to their activities over the next few weeks. 

What can I do about my concussion symptoms?

  • Pace yourself and be sure to get rest.

  • Relax for a days and then slowly increase activity of the course of the next few weeks.

  • Talk to your doctor, nurse, or psychologist.

  • Talk to you friends and family.

  • Eat healthy foods and stay hydrated.

  • Avoid alcohol. Only take medications your health care provider has approved.   

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